Sunday, September 18, 2011


Day 21: Sept. 16, 2011

Our day was a little bit off-kilter somehow, but it was a nice day with a great ending. We left our campground and headed for Dinosaur National Monument, about 20 minutes south of Vernal. I confess to being a little apprehensive about this visit. For the past five years, the major attraction of the monument has been under rehabilitation. This is a wall of natural rock known as the Fossil Quarry, about 150 feet long and two stories high, which is studded with partially excavated, identified and labeled dinosaur bones. The Visitor Center was built around the wall of rock, but unfortunately it was declared to be unstable about five years ago. They had to close the center, and they have been rebuilding it.

The grand opening is October 5, and it was extremely frustrating to me to realize even before I left home that when I got here, I was not going to be able to see the part of the park which makes it interesting to me in the first place. I was hoping that perhaps they would have finished ahead of schedule, and that the new center would be open before the “grand opening” celebrations. The park, of course, does have its own pretty colored rocks also, although this is not what it's special for.
We got to the temporary visitor center, but I already knew from talking to others that they were NOT ahead of schedule. So we did the only thing that was available to us: we took a shuttle out to a short trail near the fossil quarry. The rocks we saw were from the same geological levels as those in the quarry, and so are also full of fossils. A ranger met us, and took us on the walk and pointed out bones which were embedded in the wall. This is a femur of a large brachiosaur (the plant eaters with the long necks.)
They of course are not labeled or identified for the most part, and in fact there are not that many of them (although if we had x-ray vision, I’m sure the rocks were full of them.) The reason the park is located in this spot is because of the profusion of dinosaur bones and other related fossils--much like Fossil Butte which we saw yesterday. It is unusual to find such a variety and number of bones in one place. They have uncovered many different species of dinosaur, from babies to old age (and in one case, a fossilized developing egg), in great numbers. This photo is of a dinosaur’s spinal vertebrae. Most of the other photos just show what look like little brown shmears against the gray rock. Not too impressive, especially after the ones we saw yesterday at Fossil Butte.

So on one hand, the visit was enjoyable--the scenery is gorgeous, and we DID see dinosaur bones and some other fossils in the rock we were climbing on. But it was a very short presentation and it was obviously put together as a stop gap for tourists, so that there would be *something* to see. The temporary visitor’s center had several casts of skeletons uncovered in the area, but that was it. Even had we wanted to do other things, there’s not that much to do. There is a very short road to drive along, with some petroglyphs and a log cabin at the end. There is also the Colorado part of the park--there is a separate entrance a few miles away, over the state line, and there is a 30-mile scenic drive inside the monument. But “Utah has all the bones”, as one of the visitor guides said to me, and we have seen so many scenic drives in the past few weeks, we simply were not ready to go on another one.

So we drove back to Vernal, where we searched out a shady side street to have lunch. After that, we stopped at the post office and the grocery store, and it was already almost 3pm. We left Vernal and drove north toward Flaming Gorge. On the way we passed another reservoir (unfortunately I can't remember the name, but it sure was pretty!)
We made a brief stop at a trailhead which led to a dinosaur trackway (a lot of fossilized footprints), but discovered once there that the trail was quite long, and we were too tired and it was so late in the day, we just didn’t feel like it. We did see some spectacular red rock scenery, however!

So we continued driving north and went to the Flaming Gorge Dam Visitor Center, to get some bearings for tomorrow. There was some rain while we drove, and just at the top of the pass, we encounterd something white-- probably hail, but perhaps snow. It didn’t last long, and then the precipitation stopped.

We arrived at the Dam Visitor Center at a little before 5, which was right before it closed, so I was very glad to get there. I asked about campgrounds (a lot are closed already), boat rentals, and tours of the dam. I picked up a few more maps and then they closed up the building. I did get a few shots of the reservoir, however, while Joe and I looked around a bit.
Then we went to find a campsite. We ended up at a campground called Firefighters Memorial Campground (for its proximity to the Firefighters Memorial--what else?). It is up at about 7,000 feet, in a lovely tree-filled area with paved level sites. The best thing though is the view--we are backed up not far from a cleft in the mountain, with a wide valley and then more red rocks on the other side. There are lots of rocks on our side, too--our picnic table and fire ring are perched on them, and even close up and broken under our feet, they are simply SO red that it is amazing--I just adore this color.
So anyway this campsite rates a 10 despite the lack of electric hookups--it is exquisite. We’ve been reading, and had dinner, and are going to bed soon. I didn’t sleep well last night so I’m hoping for better tonight, and tomorrow we have a nice day planned.

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